COVINGTON, Ga. — The ballot Tuesday, Nov. 3, will ask voters if they want to pay more sales tax to speed up road improvements in Newton County and its cities.
Voters also will be asked if they want to allow lawsuits against state and local governments, and if they want to require fees charged in Georgia to be used for what they were intended.
This ballot question asks voters if they want to approve an additional 1% sales tax to raise $56.1 million over five years to pay for new road and transportation projects in Newton County’s cities and unincorporated area.
It also asks for approval of an $18.9 million bond issue that will be used to start work on the projects before enough tax revenue is collected to fund the projects.
Proceeds of the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax for transportation projects, or T-SPLOST, could reach $56 million over five years — the limit on how long the tax can be collected.
Proceeds will be shared between the county and Covington, Mansfield, Newborn, Oxford, Porterdale and Social Circle. A sharing agreement for the money was based roughly on the population of each entity.
The county government’s share for projects in unincorporated Newton is projected to be about $41.6 million.
Much of it is planned for road expansions totaling $17 million. The remainder will be used for intersection improvements, bridge replacement and repair, paving and resurfacing, a transit project, and general safety improvements.
County commissioners chose to leave the funding categories in general terms rather than naming specific projects because they might be eligible for funding from other sources — a move some city leaders criticized because they said voters might prefer specifics.
However, the county’s 2017 SPLOST committee also recommended commissioners use the money to pay for specific projects, like improvement of the dangerous and unsignalized intersection of Ga. Hwy. 36 and County Road 213, and a long-sought widening of Brown Bridge Road which will require more than a third of the county’s share.
Covington will receive about $10.3 million, which will be allotted to general safety improvements, intersection improvements and paving.
A total of $1.5 million would go to bridge construction and maintenance, including plans for a new pedestrian bridge on Emory Street over I-20; $1 million for implementation of the city’s Airport Master Plan; $1 million to public parking and infrastructure projects; and $750,000 for sidewalks and paved trails.
Oxford will get $1.6 million, Porterdale $1.1 million, Mansfield $800,000 and Newborn $465,000 in funding for everything from sidewalks and bridge replacements to paving and safety improvements for pedestrians.
County Chairman Marcello Banes said this vote also would show the board of commissioners about the appetite for a limited intra-county transit system.
The system is envisioned to give those without vehicles easier access to shopping and services and their jobs within Newton County. A study of a transit system and its inclusion in an overall transportation plan was included in the county’s Strategic Plan in 2018
Opposition has come from some on social media who argue county businesses already charge 7% in sales tax.
County residents approved a 1% Education SPLOST in 2018 and renewed a 1% SPLOST in 2017.
A 1% Local Option Sales Tax also is collected to give property tax relief to homeowners, with the remaining 4% being state sales tax.
Newton County, like many others in 2012, rejected plans for regional transportation projects in Georgia despite overwhelming evidence work was needed to improve the region’s inter-connecting road system.
Voters in the Tuesday, Nov. 3, General and Special Election will have a chance to tell the state government if fees collected for specific purposes should be used only for what was intended by including it in the Georgia Constitution.
They also can vote whether to amend the state Constitution to allow residents to sue the government for violations of state law or Georgia’s constitution.
• Proposed Constitutional Amendment 1 asks voters if they want to include in the state Constitution a requirement the state government only use fees it collects for such purposes as cleanup of illegal tire dumps or hazardous waste to be used for those purposes and not placed into the state budget for other uses.
However, it also allows the state to use the money in the event of an economic downturn and prohibits the General Assembly from dedicating money for a specific purpose if it exceeds 1% of total state revenues from the previous year.
It requires establishment of a special fund to include identification of its specific purpose, naming the state agency to administer the funds, providing annual reports of revenues and expenses, and ending the fee or tax within 10 years.
Environmental groups have praised the proposed amendment as “an important step toward cleaning up Georgia” after years of uncertainty about whether dedicated funds could be steered to other purposes.
• Proposed Constitutional Amendment 2 asks voters if they want to remove sovereign immunity protections from state and local governments, and allow lawsuits against them for alleged violations of state laws or the state and U.S. constitutions.
Sovereign immunity is a concept Georgia carried over from British common law that states the government legally can do no wrong.
District 110 State Rep. Andy Welch, R-McDonough, whose district included part of Newton County, sponsored the resolution for the constitutional amendment in reaction to previous vetoes of similar legislation by two governors.
It would allow lawsuits against governments in superior courts and authorizes superior courts to order state and local officers and employees to cease violations beginning Jan. 1, 2021.
It also requires that such legal actions be against the state or local government entity and not an elected official or individual working in the government.
The amendment also prohibits any type of monetary award unless the Georgia General Assembly approves it.
The Georgia Supreme Court ruled in 2017 that sovereign immunity protected public officials from being sued.
The Statewide Referendum asks voters if they want to exempt nonprofits from property taxes on land they own for new or renovated houses they will eventually sell with zero interest loans in Georgia.
It would affect nonprofits like Habitat for Humanity that build new homes and renovate existing residences before selling them, generally to low-income homebuyers.